For some Maryland trainers, hitting the road for the winter paid off

April 03, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Daily Racing FormSun Staff Writer

During the next couple of weeks, most of the trainers who left the Maryland thoroughbred circuit to campaign their stables over the winter at warm-weather tracks will be trickling back into Pimlico and Laurel Race Courses.

How did they and their stock fare out of town?

In most cases, pretty well.

For some horsemen, like Vinnie Blengs, taking the outfit to Florida for the winter is an annual event. According to Daily Racing Form statistics through the beginning of last week, Blengs ran the most horses out of town and won the most races.

For others, like Dale Capuano, shipping his outfit to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., was a new experience. But Capuano caught on quick. For the first couple of weeks, his horses needed a race over the track. But once they got in gear, he began winning frequently. By the time the whole outfit gets back to Maryland in two weeks, Capuano might have passed Blengs in the win department. Through yesterday, Capuano was the fourth-leading trainer at Oaklawn in number of wins and earnings.

One big lesson he learned: If he goes to Oaklawn next winter, he'll take Edgar Prado, Maryland's leading jockey, with him. "I tried to get Edgar to go this year, but he wanted to ride in New York instead. Out here, besides Pat Day, the jockey colony leaves a lot to be desired. I would have won another four or five races with Prado."

Dick Small took the fewest horses out of town -- a select group of about a half-dozen stakes horses to Oaklawn Park -- and posted the highest win percentage. He won stakes at both Oaklawn and Remington Parks with Sticks and Bricks and Punch Line, respectively, and has yet to fire his big gun -- starting Valley Crossing in the Oaklawn Handicap on April 16.

But winning percentages don't tell the entire story. Joe Devereux, who shipped seven horses to California and plans to stay there, said one trainer, Jerry Fanning, told him not even to look at win percentages. The racing is so tough that if you do, Fanning said, "you'll go crazy."

Just about each stable had a high point.

For Barclay Tagg, it was winning the Royal Palm Handicap at Hialeah Park with Social Retiree.

Capuano won the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn with Greatsilverfleet and sold Cruel Cavalier via the claim box for $50,000. He had haltered the horse last year in Maryland for $18,500. He has claimed a dozen horses: "Lots of new faces for King Leatherbury to look at," quipped Oaklawn executive Chick Lang Jr.

At Santa Anita, Devereux won the Cedar Key Handicap with Square Cut as well as races with Dior's Angel, Baby o' Mine and Robber Ramble.

Bill Donovan had a hard time winning at Gulfstream Park, but he and his wife, Donna, and their partner, Arnold Mekiliesky, sold their 4-year-old filly, Jacody, for $1 million. That's a coup in anyone's book.

Simulcasting imbalance

Laurel/Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis said Friday that if the current ratio of betting on simulcast to live races remains 50-50, "we're in trouble. We've got to get to work on our live product and make it better, starting now."

The return of Maryland stables from warm weather climes should help.

De Francis said the tracks and horsemen make about a third less on the simulcasts than they do on live races. His goal: To get the wagering back to 60 percent live and 40 percent simulcast.

That might mean curtailing some simulcasts and taking care in deciding which out-of-town signals should be shown.

The recent brouhaha has been over whether to take the Hialeah or Oaklawn simulcasts. De Francis said one fan brought in a petition with 90 signatures requesting Hialeah instead of Oaklawn. De Francis had hoped to show both tracks and eliminate afternoon harness simulcasts from Freehold Raceway on an experimental basis. But that caused such a stir from the Standardbred industry that he backed down. Right now, he said more fans are requesting the Hialeah rather than the Oaklawn signal.

Even though betting during the first quarter of the year was up 39 percent over a year ago, when there was no betting on the multiple-signal simulcasts, De Francis said the tracks lost about $1 million from 13 weather-related cancellations.

"I'll know in about a month whether we lost money or broke even [during the first quarter] after all the financials [reports] are in," he said.

Greatsilverfleet comes home

After running a disappointing fifth last weekend in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, Dale Capuano has shipped G S F Racing Partnership's Greatsilverfleet back to Maryland and plans to start him on Saturday in the $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap at Pimlico.

Capuano has lined up Edgar Prado to ride the horse. The Campbell is carded at 1 3/16ths miles, the same distance as the May 14 Pimlico Special. A Campbell victory will insure Greatsilverfleet's participation in the Special.

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